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Kinship- how complex are your worlds' cultures?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by TheCatholicCrow, Mar 27, 2015.

  1. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    As I was rereading some of my old stories I noticed that I frequently fall back on using patriarchal societies (though I'm now trying to change it up by including a matriarchal one in my WIP). Like most Americans I have a tendency to lean towards patrilineal (rather than matrilineal) societies as well.

    Anyway, it occurred to me that everyone in my stories would produce a very simple kinship chart where they only marry others outside of their own families (often from other villages or regions- but I like my peasants to be more mobile than reality would allow).

    In the future I would like to shake things up a bit and perhaps build a world where (first or second) cousin marriages are standard and perhaps even with matrilineal clans where the children belong to the mother's family and the husband might not even move in with her (and her family)- in which case the mother's brothers assume primary paternal roles and ensure there are adequate resources for the maternal family unit. (Does this make sense? It would be based on the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra.)

    It got me thinking about Kinship and inheritance and so I was just wondering ... how complex do you make your world and the cultures in it? I'd love to hear all about it :)
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2015
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  2. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    I wouldn't say that most of my cultures/worldbuilding fall into the patriarchal structures, because most of the time I don't go into that much depth. (Although, as with race, I guess a world falls into a patriarchy/patrilineal descent by default if I don't explicitly say otherwise? Not something I'd given much thought to...but probably should in future work.)

    But with the new world building that I've been doing, I've got some interesting things that came up when constructing my family tree(s) for the nobility/magic users.

    My magicians have name endings (demonyms) for men and women. My magical disease is patrilineal in descent, but my MC mage's family name comes from a woman (at some point, because of the ending being the feminine version of "magician"). So there's gonna be an interesting fallout at some point because of that decision, haven't quite made up my mind how I'm going to resolve that one (if I do at all).

    As of right now, my women aren't less equal than my men; but there are levels of inequality within my society as a whole. My magicians are mostly outside of society, so they aren't as bound by the things that affect others (perception of status, as their status is secure; the general laws of the society, because they have specialized laws that they have to follow; etc).

    So, complexity in world building isn't uncommon, it just takes the right kind of story to make all this work necessary--in other words, you're more likely to spend this much time (and more) on a novel/novella (and especially a series of novels) than you are on a short story or flash fiction.
  3. 2WayParadox

    2WayParadox Sage

    Hmm, I don't go into depth about lineage either in my stories. I like the model that's followed in the Black Company and books like it, where men and women are treated more or less equal. Not completely, but talented women do have possibilities in the army and in trade etc.

    I know there are many different kinds of lineage structure. There's a tribe where marrying anyone inside your tribe is considered incest, but marrying someone from another village, even if it is a blood relative, isnt considered incest. There's many other examples, but the problem I have with any of these is that unless this lineage structure is paramount to your story, I feel it will only detract from your ability to present backstory. On the other hand, it might alienate readers from your setting and make it harder for them to get into the setting, because you've been forced to point out it's different.

    But that can be just me. I for example haven't finished any of the books about native Americans, because the story just gets bogged down in their spirituality and family ties and for some reason it grates on my willingness to read on.

    So my opinion is that patrilineal descent is more an instrument of convenience than anything else.

    I did read a wonderful series of books by Thea Beckman, a Dutch writer, where all positions of authority in a certain civilization were held by women because men ****ed up too badly in the past. This worked for me, because it was the same structure as the traditional patrilineal one, but then with the sexes swapped.

    So yeah, it's possible to do something different, but I think you have to take into account how much distance it will create for your reader.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Okay. In one setting, a quasi-Asian setting (to keep things simple here), in the setting's history, the Lords would pass everything on to their oldest son to keep the power of their clans growing and together over time.

    Eventually, in the aftermath of a massive world-changing event, the Emperor changed the law. Nobles had to divide their titles equally among their sons, with the intention of breaking up the clans that were getting too big for the emperor to deal with.

    Well, that led to a problem. Some nobles would have their sons executed, or abandoned at orphanages, or left with peasants, or they would order them into exile, or to a life at a temple, because keeping the clan's power together was more important to many of them than having their family together. Nobody was happy with that. But nobody wanted to let them off the hook, either, so it remained in effect for a long time.

    At the start of the story, the empire mostly exists only on paper, and most of the different prefectures have their own governments, make their own laws, and even have their own treaties with each other. But the law of the empire is as follows:

    - If the estate is passed on to a single child, a portion of any formal Clan estate (of which only a couple dozen remain) is "returned to the emperor" upon the death of the Clan's Lord. Although a law, it never actually happens because the remaining formal clans are the only ones who still support the empress, who they bully into obedience.

    - The second born son of every household at every level is drafted into the army at the age of 5. Although a law for the entire empire, it only happens in the areas surrounding the capital. This is an echo of the previous law because it was originally done for the clans to keep them from having to "off" their second son. A military life was still very noble. As the clans' power faded and the emperor's reach dwindled, it was expanded to all classes.

    One of the secondary POV characters is a woman who, as a child, threw stones at the guard who was taking her brother away for the army, screaming "Don't take him! No!" and eventually, "You're taking the wrong one!" She wanted to go herself, and that's what she got, making her one of the only women in the empire's formal professional army.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    So far I adhere closely to real-Earth cultures, simply because I'm writing an alternate history fantasy. But in later stories other intelligent races (elves, dwarves, orcs, the usual suspects) show up and I've been considering--strictly on back burners for a while--letting those races carry the difference genes, keeping my humans very close to "normal". I have what I think are interesting variations in religion, and some other riffs for economics or social structure, but I haven't got to family organization. I'll definitely have to throw that into the mix.
  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I had a story with a very strongly matrilineal and somewhat matriarchal society. It was loosely based on thing I had read about Native American cultures, where the women owned everything of value [land and water rights, domestic animals, slaves and the like] except for the clothes, horses and weapons of the males. In my world this was supposed to have remove greed as a motive for violence and promote defence rather than aggression.
    But one thing I became certain about is that such a division of assets would lead to a [male] nomadic mercenary class that kept their wealth in their weapons and horses.
    Women and Men had an equal voice in legal affairs but there was a rough split between internal [laws and policing] being "female" and external [foreign policy and trade relations] being "male" spheres of influence. I wasn't exactly happy about that division and I don't think I knew enough about the affects it would have to my world to develop it more fully.
  7. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I'm trying to work out how the kinship of the merfolk in one of my WIPs actually works. They're a matrilineal society, and possibly matriarchal as well. Sounds simple enough, but the waters get muddy (pun intended) when you factor in polygamy and hermaphroditic merfolk. My MC is part of one such family; her parents, a male and a female, share a hermaphroditic lover who has borne and fathered children by them both.

    Offspring of the same mother are considered full siblings regardless of the father, while children of the same father and two different mothers are half-siblings. (This also applies for gay/lesbian couples who have children by surrogates.) So the MC is the only child of her parent-pair, but she has a full sibling by her mother and the lover, and (possibly, if I keep it in the plot) a half-sibling by her father and the lover. All this makes drawing out family trees really difficult. XD
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  8. Noldona

    Noldona Scribe

    This is something I always found odd in fantasy settings. Why would family lines be based paternal? I maybe wrong on this, but I don't believe there was any way to check who the father of a child was other then by who the mother slept with. If the mother had many lovers and/or raped by many people, the father of the child could be put into question. However, as the mother is the one who actually gives birth to the child (assuming the setting doesn't have some other way of birth), then there can be no doubt as to who the mother is thus, family lines should be maternal.

    With that said, in my current world I am working on building, I have started thinking about how different societies would handle the matter of family. Some possible ideas I have come up with are the following:
    - poly-amorous societies where many wives have many husbands and children can be born from any of those unions
    - a matriarchal society where the woman rules the family
    - the standard patriarchal societies
    - some sort of paired society where men and women are equal and always work together with their partner, pairs are chosen at birth by the parents of each child and are raised together all their life
    - a segregated society where men and women live completely separately except for during certain periods of the year and certain ages for the sake of continuing the species with pairings happening randomly
    - family could have nothing to do with blood at all, the children are all raised in a group home by people who's job it is to raise children, and the children gain a family when they take up a trade later in life, members of the trade are your family
  9. Usually, I go straight gender equality - malazan style. As I write military fiction, a good way to show this is with women in front line military roles. I also have female PoVs in various roles of high power - Throne of her house, Crown Princess, Priestess allowed and able to utillize blood magic, so on and so forth.

    I also have one culture which is basically taking medieval Catholicism and turning it on its head - in a set of continents where the closest things to gods, for most people, are half-forgotten emperors and empresses, one culture has a female godess. All power and possessions go to the woman of the house, and men are subservient. The army/ police is comprised of women. Only women can serve in the prietesshood, and only mothers can discipline their daughters. Same sex relationships are positively encouraged, it is not uncommon for one man to be married, and to have an informal "husband" and the same for women.

    Men mostly still work in fields/ manual labor and so on, and serve as apprentices/ semi-skilled artisans for master crafts women, where as a woman's job still include things such as cooking and sewing (in lower classes) it is because it is seen as a great skill to turn raw "easily-acquired" materials into something nice to provide for the family
  10. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I really like this concept. I would expect that in a society like this there would be a strong sense of Rites to mark a clear distinction b/n the individuals' social status(es) [child/adult etc.]. I imagine it would be done in tribal groups and the people would get connected (or harbor lifelong rivalries) with the people in their category (their peers).

    This sounds like bisexual polyamorous relationships (?) The benefits of these relationships are unclear to me - I'm wondering if is used in your society as a social connection? Perhaps this is "encouraged" as a form of social networking?

    I think there is a common misconception that patriarchal automatically means gender inequality.

    (There's a difference but they commonly occur together) I think Patriarchal/ Patrilineal societies rely heavily on marriage because it would be senseless to invest resources in raising another man's children (marriage is supposed to ensure faithfulness on the part of the woman and guarantee that the progeny are in fact the man's).

    Matriarchal/Matrilineal societies often have less emphasis on the traditional marriage institutions because everything is traced by the mother's family/clan. (As someone pointed out above- there's no question which mother the baby belongs to.)

    It gets tricky and complex in (for instance) the US which I would say is close to a Bi-archical and Bilineal system.

    Of course it doesn't have to be super complex or a even dominant component of the culture. It affects things like which family you feel most comfortable with (your mother's or father's side), whose Surname (or patronymic/matrinymic) name you take, who inherits the farm, who has the final say in the family (though this might differ according to the family dynamic), who represents the clan in disputes, etc.
  11. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    I've been working on my current WIP for the better part of five years - over time, I made some extensive writing about the many cultures I created, trying to make them unique and complex. In order to work on a culture, there are some angles you might want to consider before writing down any lore - here are some questions, out of the top of my head, you should ask yourself upon drawing its first contours.

    - What religion(s) is dominant in said culture ? Describe it.
    - What are the essential principles of said religion, if there is one to begin with ?
    - What is this religion's stance regarding war ?
    - What is this religion's stance regarding family ?
    - How does the race concerned by said culture, procreates ? Are there significant cultural distinctions between sexes ?
    - If so, what are the potential roles for a "woman" ? And for a "man" ?
    - What would you say is expected on an individual in this culture ?
    - What would you say is the key dogma at the heart of this culture, and how does it affect people, the way they live, and the way they die ?
    - How is life considered and what is "Death" in said culture ?
    - If there is a specific religion, what kind of link ties a man and his god(s) ?
    - What kind of social hierarchy and notion of legitimate power said culture brings to life ?
    - Did this culture forge some kind of ethos in people's mind ? If yes, describe it.
    - How does one approach society and fellow countrymen in regard to said culture ?
    - Are their any important celebrations that might be noteworthy ? If yes, describe them.
    - How would you describe the following concepts in your culture's mentality : money, power, sexuality, magic, art, violence, faith, suffering, domination, submission, virtu, morality, honor, exaltation, desire, war, hate...

    and basics...

    - How old is this culture you describe ?
    - How many people are concerned by it ?
    - Where is it located (geographically) ?
    - What importance does it hold in your world ?
    - At the scale of your world's history, how impacting would you say this culture was ?

    If found these few questions to be pretty useful to define first hand a culture you're creating...
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  12. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I've never used this but it sounds like it might help.

    I would LOVE to take on polygamy in my future world(s). [Assuming it's more women than men] I've heard that polygynous relationships function "best"/most ideally when there are three wives (one husband) because it reduces the competition between the women (which is usually the case with 2 women 1 man), 4+ women gets tricky though. Wives are usually added slowly (as funds permit) and this would be an incredibly expensive household to provide for and the women can become clique-ish (leaving the newest wife out).

    Obviously in societies like this there's usually an issue of higher demand for women than men so unfortunately young men who do not comply to social expectations are often forced out of the society. :(
    But of course there can be benefits to this as well (especially if they share communal housing). Women who want to work (to help support the family) are often free to do so and without the guilt of leaving their children at home without a mother (presumably some of the other women remain at home). I saw a documentary on a rural Iranian family where one wife was barren (or else she miscarried several times) and one of the other wives literally gave her a baby to raise in her own home. It can offer women the ability to be mothers (or to dodge homemaking) who would otherwise be unable to do so but still enjoy the fruits of it all. Of course it would differ greatly if it's any other gender combination (1 man + 1 herm + 1 woman / 2 men, 1 woman / 3 men / 3 women / 2 herms + 1 man etc.)

    Your world sounds wonderfully complex and bold.

    Is there any pressure for the hermaphroditic character to identify hirself within a binary gender system or is this a somewhat common occurrence (a tri-gender system)?

    If you're dealing with nontraditional families you might find Judith Stacey's Unhitched to be an interesting read. It's about gay culture in Los Angeles. It touches on the subject of (flexible) gender roles among gay parents as well as resource distribution, identity, and other things I had not previously considered. Her conclusion (that gay parents make equal or better parents than traditional families) seems to be based a bit more on her emotional connection to the subject than solid data but it also seems like she's trying to make a Sociology claim with Anthro research so IDK. With these topics its hard to know where the research ends and the personal assumptions begin but it makes for an interesting read nonetheless.

    [If you know how borrowing works on Kindle and are interested, PM me & I'll see if I can loan it to you. (I have no idea how to do it -so you'd have to help me out with that one :) ]
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  13. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    The tri-gender system is quite normal, though the herms (called "two-sexes" in my book) number less than males or females (roughly a 6:3:1 ratio of women:men:herms). I haven't gone into detail about the creation or possible mutation of herms as distinct from men or women in my creation myth yet, but I plan to. Right now I'm just pondering ways to make them integral to society and not easily made into one gender or the other for story purposes. One such herm, the MC's stepparent, is important to the overarching plot, but not as a result of xir gender. It's because xe has knowledge and connections the MC needs to achieve her goal.

    Also, the kinship thing in that link doesn't work for me. :( I guess I don't have the right plugin for it. *grumbles about Java*
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I am trying to do something that even I have a hard time wrapping my head around and create a world in which there are no societies. Because, for at least the first several thousand years of its history, its inhabitant are not human but more like the gods and demi-gods of mythology. They do not naturally form societies, but they do have hierarchies. The most powerful of them have realms where they are sovereign and the nature of the realm reflects the nature of the god. Within their realm they are surrounded by their own kin and descendants and lesser gods and demi-gods that have powers that fall within their realm of sovereignty. However, these beings live very individualistic lives. They may have a few relatives or associates that they interact with regularly or the more powerful ones may have a household that orbits them but there are no large communities or societies.

    Much later these gods create a new race that functions much more like humanity (though metaphysically I consider them to be very different from humans) and must learn to carve out its own niche in the world of the gods. This involves learning to form communities and cultures. But this part of my world is a long way off in my writings so I have not given a lot of thought to how I will explore their attempts. One thing I do want to do, however, is have at least one society where man and woman rule together equally, as in, there must be a "king" and a "queen" (or whatever title I give them) that have equal power and it is considered that leadership is not complete without both sexes contributing their unique perspective and abilities.
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  15. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    Perhaps have them be elevated above the others as having the best of both genders. Perhaps the women are kind but emotional and the men are logical but lack compassion (or the reverse) and the herms are viewed as possessing a balance of these qualities.

    I'm pretty sure in the Byzantine Empire there were certain high ranking positions in court which could only be held by eunichs. In their case it had to do with the inability to reproduce (they'd be more likely to serve the emperor, less likely to chase after the ladies or look out for their family's interests). I think they were believed to be more trustworthy because of their special place in society.
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  16. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    That would work pretty well, actually! The MC is quite emotional, as are her mother and aunt, especially in the aftermath of the inciting incident -- though the fact that said incident affects them all on a very personal level is also an important factor. They're understandably furious at what happens to the MC's cousin to kick-start the plot. I'm not sure I'd classify the mermen as totally emotionless, since the MC's cousin does show care for her and her girlfriend, but I could definitely use the basic idea of contrast and balance. Thanks very much!

    I'm not entirely sure I want the herms to be elevated too highly above the other genders, though, since the society is still meant to be matriarchal and not... um... whatever the equivalent term would be for a hermaphrodite ruler. I don't think, for example, that herms can become priestesses of the goddess (who are very highly-ranked in their respective pods); that's a female-only position.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2015
  17. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver


    1) The noble families of Solaria (main nation of my main world) have engaged in cousin marriages a few times. Titus Maximus, the MC of 'Labyrinth,' is a product of this. It's relevant to the plot.

    2) My secondary world has a roughly Polynesian human culture whom I simply term 'beach-folk.' With them, family decent is traced through the female line, and while not entirely matrilineal, the clan mothers carry a lot of weight in decision making. A clan without fertile women is considered extinct, which is the source of a series of tales I have in mind for that world.

    3) Goblins/Hobgoblins. In my world(s) these are alien creatures. Males are humanoid, ranging from 3-5 feet tall (goblins) up to about 7.5 feet tall (hobgoblins). Superficially, the males look very like humans, and might pass as such in bad light or from a distance. The reality is much stranger:

    Goblin/Hobgoblin males outnumber females by a hundred or more to one. Yet the (male) drive to reproduce is very strong. This leads to intense, often lethal competition among the males to be the 'one.' Sometimes this competition is directed outward, in the form of raids and border wars on neighboring realms. Very often, though, it is not. In many goblin/hobgoblin societies, murder is a misdemeanor.

    Goblins/Hobgoblins who win mating rights spend a year or so courting their 'lady' (not humanoid in the slightest, more like something out of a nightmare). At the end of that time the female lays as many as two dozen leathery eggs that hatch after a few months. (One or two eggs means female(s), otherwise all males.) These offspring grow up as a 'pack' dominated by the strongest/smartest of the bunch. Society depending, these the members of these packs either form a united front against the world, or breakup and reform into other packs.
  18. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    I haven't delved too much into the kinship of my WIP, but what I know is that Therannia doesn't hold full patriarchy. It has been ruled by one family since the founding, although it was moved through different lines in the family tree. The Ruler and Heir can be of either sex - it is more of a firstborn thing, than firstborn son. But the rule in Therannia is somewhat dual - the ruling family holds the crown and the title of Archemage. This is better explained through history and backstory. So, for example the Ruler and his partner had three children - two girls and one boy in that order. The ones that show magical potential are schooled after their awakening (the magical puberty when the powers come forth) and the one without magic is taught to be the Ruler, no matter the gender. If we use the hypothesis from before, if the eldest daughter is the only one with magic she will automatically drop from the race for Ruler position. She has the potential to become the Achemage in the future, but the spot is not reserved only for the main branch of the royal family (all blood related cousins with magic have the same chance, as the deeds are the ones that make an Archemage), while her two other siblings will be raised as heirs. The older one has the advantage, while the younger still holds the title if something happens to the older.
    So they are not exactly paternal oriented.
    There are also two other nations - one named Arachnae who are people bonded with spiders through blood magic as a blessing of their Goddess who have an equality based caste society. Depending on the strength of your magic you can advance through the caste.
    Their mortal enemies - the Naga are a different race - once people, inbred with snakes and through rituals and forbidden magic made into something new and different. They have a completely maternal society, but I haven't worked too much on it as they are villains for the second book.
  19. SD Stevens

    SD Stevens Scribe

    To me, my worlds culture is self explanatory but that doesn't really help the reader does it. Most of the time I let the story tell me where it wants the worlds development to go. Don't know if I'm doing it right or wrong though but it works for me.

    Iv read through this post and found it very interesting and very reassuring too. I was beginning to think I was a bit fanatical!

    When I created mine it wasn't about what I wanted to add, it was more about what I would keep out. And it grew from that and it still is growing.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  20. SaraJayne13

    SaraJayne13 New Member

    I'm just in the beginning stages with my world Aslaria. I have worked out the basic map and where the bigger societies are located. Fae (which is what I am basing my main character as), Elves (the most elusive culture with just a few members venturing out into the light of my story) Dwarves ( Stick to there own unless selling wares, drinking or joining in any clashes between cultures whether or not their clan is involved) Centaurs (They deem themselves protectors of the land and no one wants to be on the wrong side of their arrows) Merfolk ( They swim the waters of the Ethereal Depths taking down ships and pulling unsuspecting sailors to there deaths having very little to do with the land dwellers) Goblins ( They barely survived the last war, what is left of them live in caves and hunt anything that crosses into their lands) Orcs (banished to a island just off the coast unable to return as the merfolk relish dragging them to their deaths when they try). This is as far as I have gotten, any tips on building out the cultures and beefing it up for my story?

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